Feel the buzz
It’s a film that begins memorably with the sound of a huge hydraulic press coming down on a man’s head, flattening it to nothing. But the blood spilling over the machinery has never been so red as it is on this new DVD release of The Fly, even deeper than the red on the smoking jacket Vincent Price wears in the following shot.
Price has always been associated with The Fly, despite his secondary role in the film. The actor’s reputation as a horror star cemented the association in so many people’s minds to the point that a lot of folks think he played the title creature.
It’s Al (later known as David) Hedison (Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea) who stars as scientist Andre Delambre, the guy whose head got squashed in the opening. Shockingly, it’s his wife Helene (Patricia Owens) who is at the controls of the machine. Price, as Francois Delambre, is called in to help when his sister-in-law admits what she’s done to police Inspector Charas (Herbert Marshall of Gog). Has the woman gone mad?
On TV, we get right to the action from here, but on this complete print it takes 28 minutes until Helene snaps out of it and she starts her flashback. Genius Andre has been a busy boy in the workshop, and invites Helene in for a demonstration of his “disintegrator-reintegrator” machine — or “transporter” to you Star Trek educated youngsters. After some misfires and several more tests, Andre is ready to show his invention to Francois, who is his partner in Delambre Industries.
However, like any good mad scientist, Andre can’t help but jump the gun and try the machine on himself — with disastrous results, as a housefly decides to make the trip with him. His atoms get all scrambled with the fly’s, and it’s up to his wife (along with son Philippe) to hunt down the fly so they can get un-scrambled.
Seen today, The Fly looks more like what it really is: a sci-fi B-movie pumped up with lush production values. When I first saw it as a child, it seemed extremely grotesque and atmospheric, and it’s come to be regarded as a classic. Now, it looks much cheaper, and the nerve-wracking scenes of fly hunting have lost all their suspense with repeated viewing. Director Kurt Neumann (Kronos) knew how to handle the sci-fi elements, but was hardly a Hitchcock when it came to suspense. Still, the film does retain a few chills, especially in its hair-raising finale. And though kept offscreen for the most part, there’s some material that hasn’t lost its yecch value.
The black and white sequel Return of the Fly begins on a dour note, with the funeral of Helene, attended by Francois (Price again) and the now-grown Philippe (Brett Halsey of High School Caesar). The young man’s unanswered questions force Francois to show him the old lab for a recap of the first film’s plot. Francois’ fears are realized as he can’t dissuade Philippe, who is determined to follow in his father’s footsteps.
Along with his assistant Alan Hinds (David Frankham, who would meet Price again in Master of the World and Tales of Terror), Philippe sets up a lab in the basement of the old family mansion using his own funds. During a foreshadowing demonstration of Philippe’s fly phobia, we’re introduced to Cecile Bonnard (Danielle De Metz of Valley of the Dragon), the maid’s daughter. She’s gorgeous, but is barely in the film enough to qualify as a love interest.
Philippe finally coerces Francois into helping rebuild the machine, if only to get Price in front of the camera again. The boys succeed in their little science project, but this time they know better than to jump in themselves. If anyone is going to get their atoms scrambled, they’ll have to be forced in.
Lucky for us, Alan turns out to be a fraud, in reality a spy named Ronnie Holmes, wanted for murder in England. Caught stealing the plans for the machine, Alan puts up a fight and ends up putting Philippe in the transporter cabinet. Just to be mean, he puts a fly in with him, then disintegrates both. Francois guesses the truth and turns on the reintegrator. Voila! Philippe really does follow in his father’s footsteps, popping out of the machine with a huge fly’s head.
But unlike Dad, Philippe doesn’t mope around the lab. He becomes a mad fly-man on a rampage, out for revenge. Somehow, a guy with a huge fly head makes his way into Montreal unseen. He uses his fly senses to track down Max Berthold, the undertaker/fence that Alan was associated with. Then Philippe uses his fly strength to kill both Max and Alan.
The black and white cinematography, aided by growling thunderstorms and cobwebs, create the ambiance of an old Universal horror movie. It’s a cheesy flick, but one that knows that it’s cheesy and has some fun with it. The Fly stuck pretty much to a few sets, making it feel stage-bound. Though lacking color, the sequel’s expanded scope is refreshing, and it goes out of its way to exaggerate every situation, culminating in the ridiculously oversize fly head that Halsey has to run around in.
Credit writer/director Edward Bernds with the wacky tone. Bernds occasionally dabbled in genre fare, but spent most of his career cranking out comedies with the Bowery Boys and the Three Stooges.
Though Fox has kept these titles on the video shelves for years — even teaming them up for a laserdisc double feature — they’ve never looked this good. Both films have been given generous widescreen transfers, and they look as sharp and vivid as the day they were released. They also have been given stereo soundtracks, which help perk up those buzzing fly-hunting scenes.
The disc play starts with a promo for Fox DVD, easily avoided by pushing a button on the remote, which features X-Men prominently. Both sides of the disc include a bunch of trailers for all three of Fox’s recent science fiction DVD double features, some presented in widescreen. Though not in quite as good shape as the features, they’re darn entertaining in their own right. The one for The Fly is quite avante garde, with dialogue clips from the film played over distorted graphics, and Price appealing directly to the audience — much like he did in trailers for William Castle features of the same period. Return of the Fly is appropriately hyperbolic, with frantic narration by Paul Frees. Also included are trailers for the 1986 The Fly remake, it’s sequel The Fly II, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and Fantastic Voyage.